Gripped by Grinders

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More than 200 grinders are mounted in Dave Paulus' display.

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In an era when those who still cook use commercially processed foods, it is easy to forget the labor that meal preparation once required. Spend a bit of time with Dave Paulus' collection of grinders, and those chores loom large.

Dave's collection of grinders started as nothing more than a question.

'I had one or two old grinders in the garage, and I began to wonder how many different manufacturers there were,' he said. 'So I started collecting them. When I got to about 30, my wife said to stop at 100. Well, I have over 600 now.'

About 200 (with no duplicates) are displayed in a trailer which Dave takes to shows. The inventory is a dizzying assemblage of what Dave classifies as 'hand crankers': pea hullers, tool grinders and a drill press, cherry pitters, salad grinders, juicers, vegetable cutters, sausage sniffers, coffee grinders, apple peelers and more than 100 ice cream freezer cranks.

Dave has no idea where it will end.

'You just don't know what's out there,' he said. 'There's no book or reference guide to grinders. And it's hard to come up with any background information because many of them are so old ... those companies are not in business anymore. Some of these grinders were patented as early as 1887.'

Many seem to have ties to the states of Pennsylvania and Connecticut.

'The Universal has the names 'Landers Fraley and Clark' on it, made in New Britain, Conn.,' he said.

Some offer surprising insights into early manufacturers' diversity.

'I've seen a Winchester Repeating grinder,' he said, presumably related to the rifle maker. That piece was priced at $65; another by the same maker was tagged at $300. Both prices are well outside Dave's comfort zone for new acquisitions.

'Most of them you'll find in a range of $15 to $25,' he said. 'There's some I didn't buy because they just wanted too much for them.' New collectors, he said, should start with more modest pieces, those in a range of $5-10. The most popular pieces are made by Griswold, Keen Kutter, Universal, Climax, Wards and Modern Merit.

Flea markets are his favorite haunts for grinders (and related parts).

'I hate to spend all day chasing one at an auction,' Dave said.

He doesn't do much work on the pieces in his collection. 'I have sandblasted some of them, and I put stone paint on a couple, just to make them look more antique,' he said. 'But the majority of them I've just left natural. So many people like them just as they are, and you do want to protect the original label, if it's still there.'

Some (mostly English-made) have porcelain interiors, 'I think to preserve against rust,' he said.

Dave's collection also includes potato chippers, butcher's tools, cream separators, electric grinders and tobacco grinders. And then there are his 'air compressors.'

Somewhere along the line, Dave grew interested in the hand air pump. Last summer he mounted three dozen of them on risers, looking like a leafless forest, and took them to a show. He put up a sign identifying the collection as an 'air compressor display.'

'People got a real kick out of them,' he said. 'It was a lot of fun.'

Since then, he's picked up another dozen.

'They're pretty interesting,' he said. 'There's no names on a lot of them, but some of them are named. One was designed to clamp in place on a car's running board. And there's one unusual one that had two tubes so you could pump up and down with it. Normally you only pump on the down stroke, but this gives some pressure on the upstroke, so you pump instead of wasting a stroke. One guy had one with three tubes; I don't know how that worked.'

For more information: Dave Paulus, 9343 Pearson Road, West Milton, OH 45383; (937)698-6422.